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Swimming in Amsterdam

Where to Swim in Amsterdam

There are plenty of places where you can swim in Amsterdam.

We’re having wonderful July summer weather — perfect for picnics along with a refreshing dive or swim.

Fortunately, Amsterdam has many public indoor- and outdoor swimming pools, officially approved natural spots, and a good number of ‘wild swimming’ locations.

Last updated: May 8, 2016

Choose your swimming hole right here:

Blue = indoor and outdoor swimming pools
Green = official and unofficial open water swimming spots


Click on each icon for more information.

Amsterdam is often called the “Venice of the North.” No wonder. No less than 24% of the city consists of water: two rivers, 165 canals, and several lakes.

The largest bodies of water are the river IJ, the natural lake Nieuwe Meer, and the man-made lakes Sloterplas and Gaasperplas.

1 in 3 Amsterdammers swims in open water
1 in 20 Amsterdammers swims in the canals1

Best known, of course, are the canals.

But you cannot — or at least should not — just swim anywhere you want.

Our map shows the location of pools (blue icons) and of nature swimming spots (green icons) — both official and unofficial.

Official and Unofficial Swimming Spots

swimming amsterdam

Unofficial swimming spot at Borneokade, Amsterdam. © Thomas Schlijper. Used by permission

Each of the twelve provinces of the Netherlands publishes an annual list of officially-approved swimming spots.

Between May 1 and October 1 the quality of the water at these swimming holes is checked weekly by local water boards and by Rijkswaterstaat, the Ministry of Infrastructure and the Environment.

Hygiene and safety along the waterside is taken into account as well.

Official spots tend to be well-maintained. Some have facilities such as public toilets or snack bars.

Signs inform visitors of rules, possible hazards, and the quality level of the water — which normally ranges between good and excellent.

If health risks arise, such as the presence of blue-green algae, signs will go up as well.

Unofficial swimming locations are not frequently checked for water quality, hazards (e.g. deep water, contaminated soil), and other issues.

Outdoor Swimming: Health Risks and Safety Tips

Swimming in open surface water, whether in approved or unapproved locations, is always at your own risk.

If you get your feet caught up in a discarded bike, fall ill due to the presence of algae, or get injured in any other way (e.g. by glass on the beach), you’re on your own. (Hint: this is not America; you can’t sue to your heart’s content.)

swimming in the IJ river

Hard-to-find diving board at the edge of an industrial terrain in Amsterdam Noord. Unofficial swimming spot in the busy IJ river.

When swimming at nature spots, try not to ingest any water in order to prevent stomach- and intestinal problems, or worse.

If there is boat traffic, stay away from it.

The water may be very deep even while it is relatively shallow near the wall, and the temperature of the water may sharply differ in places. Be wary of under-cooling and cramp.

It may be a good idea to wear water shoes.

Shower as soon as possible after swimming.

In short: use your common sense.

Swimming in the canals

Swim in the canals during the annual Amsterdam City Swim

On warm days lots of tourists and locals alike think it’s a good idea to swim in the canals of Amsterdam.

It is not (albeit with a few exceptions: see the map).

The ambition of Waternet, Amsterdam’s water authority, is to someday have the water in the canals clean enough for people to swim in.

That said, while officially the canals are not designated as swimming water, there is now a yearly Amsterdam City Swim event — organized as a fund raiser for research into underexposed diseases such as Lou Gehrig’s Disease (ALS). The next event will take place on September 11, 2016.2

The quality of the water has indeed improved quite a bit in recent years — due in part to a project to connect all of the city’s 3000+ houseboats to the sewer lines. Target date for completion: June, 2017.

Pleasure craft in canal

Some canals are simply to busy for people to safely swim in.

If that isn’t enough to dissuade you from diving into a canal, consider this: Every year the city fishes between 12,000 and 15,000 bicycles from the canals.

It’s easy to get your feet tangled in discarded bikes, shopping carts, and whatnot.

Many also have lots of boat traffic, making swimming there unsafe.

It’s not that people don’t swim in the canals at all. Throughout the city there are small jetties from which you can easily enter and exit the water — and lots of people do.

No one seems prepared to say whether or not it is illegal to do so (possibly since nobody wants to be held liable if something bad happens).

swimmer

In July 2010 soccer fans lined the canals to celebrate the Dutch National Football team after it finished in second place in the World Cup soccer tournament. This man took an impromptu swim — with police officers looking on (and laughing)

Waternet simply says “You cannot swim in the canals.” But in reality there are certain spots (e.g. Borneokade and Bogortuin) where a more-or-less official blind eye is turned.3

Update, March 7, 2016

There is an increasing demand for new, ‘unofficial’ swimming spots in the city, says Amsterdam Daily Het Parool.

According to alderman Udo Kock (Water Management), the city will soon designated several such locations. Kock says the quality of the water in the canals has never been as good as it currently is.

“Many Amsterdammers are taking to the water outside the city,” he notes, “but within city limits there are many opportunities. That is why we want to expand the number of open water locations where people can swim.”

The exact locations have not yet been announced, but we will update this article as soon as they are known.

Rivers, Channels, Bridges and Other Off-Limit Spots

Swimming in rivers and channels is forbidden and life-threatening. So says Rijkswaterstaat, part of the Dutch Ministry of Infrastructure and the Environment responsible for Holland’s waterways.4

river with passing boat

Rijkswaterstaat, whose officers patrol the waters in yellow boats sporting the letters RWS, is authorized to issue fines of €140 per person.

The Rules

It is forbidden to swim

  • in the traffic lanes on the rivers
  • in channels
  • near mooring spots (even if no ships are currently moored there)
  • near bridges, sluices, weirs or floating demarcation lines
  • near ferries and their routes
  • in and around harbors

It is also illegal to jump or dive off bridges and sluices. Jumpers can easily get injured, for instance by waterlogged pieces of wood that float just below the surface.

Some bridges, particularly in waterways close to the river IJ, carry dutch-language signs stating that swimming in the area is forbidden.

You’ll see such signs near sluices as well. The signage makes reference to “BPR” which stands for Binnenvaartpolitiereglement — Inland Waterways Police Regulations.

Rivers and Channels: Specific Dangers

  • Swimmers are ‘invisible’ to captain and crew of cargo ships. And even if they were to spot you, there’s no way for the ship to make an emergency stop or an evading maneuver
  • The undercurrent of passing ships can suck swimmers underneath the water
  • Passing ships can create significant waves, strong and high enough to wash away children playing near the water’s edge
  • The current in rivers can be unpredictable and can, for instance, be significantly higher just outside cribs
  • Swimmers caught in changing currents and wildly different water depths can suffer cramps and undercooling

Yes, you can drink the water from the canals

Updates:
July 13, 2015: Added Roest and De Ceuvel to the map as outdoor swimming spots. Roest is one of Amsterdam’s most popular city beaches, and De Ceuvel is an alternative spot in Amsterdam Noord.

Notes:

  1. Marc Kruyswijk, Meer Geplons in Amsterdamse Grachten, Parool, March 1, 2016
  2. Before and during this event the water quality is constantly checked by Waternet. Floating and submerged trash is removed, and extra sluicing is performed as well
  3. In Dutch this is called gedogen — a word that cannot be properly translated because it describes a typically Dutch situation in which something that is illegal is, under certain circumstances, nevertheless tolerated.
  4. Rijkswaterstaat is responsible for the design, construction, management and maintenance of the main infrastructure facilities in the Netherlands, including the road network, waterway network, and water systems.
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This post was last updated: Nov. 23, 2016    

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